Village Preschool Center Philosophy Behind Our Discipline Policy
By Suzette & Jeff
Young children have limited self-control, minimal attention spans, and very little understanding of rules or others children’s feelings. To be effective teachers, we must have in abundance everything the children lack: patience, the capacity to focus and size up a situation instantaneously, an unambiguous code of conduct, and compassion. We have many strategies to avoid conflicts between the children. They are based on professional studies, on our many years of experience with preschoolers, and on our spiritual commitment to harmony.
1. Although we have many sharing experiences, these do not include the sharing of toys or materials. Children cannot be expected to share at this young age. Research has shown that mandated sharing brings about many unnecessary classroom conflicts. Some children are so worried that they will have to give up a toy that they don’t even enjoy having it. They will fend off anyone who comes near it. We emphasize turn taking: “Right now this is (name of child)’s work. Soon it will be your work. Your turn will come. When you have it, we won’t let anyone take it away from you. Let’s do this while you’re waiting.” Distraction can defuse many potential conflicts. Occasionally, a new toy proves so popular that children get very frustrated. In such cases we purchase several more of these toys. A little common sense can go a long way.
2. Children’s attention spans vary widely. We soon get to know each child’s focus, and adjust our expectations accordingly. Lesson times and story times are important parts of the school day, but we recognize and respect some children’s inability to sit still and attend. If they can’t sit for an entire story or lesson, that is perfectly OK. We have a staff member waiting in the wings with appropriately hands-on activities for these children. Schools that have minimum staffing require all children to sit through lessons or complete projects. Their classmates soon start labeling inattentive children, whom teachers frequently scold, or pressure to sit still, as “bad,” much to the detriment of their self-esteem. They frequently begin to think of themselves as bad or lacking in some way. It is not our goal to have the children overcome their need to fidget in order to keep them under our control during group times. It is to have them enjoy school, and have fond associations with the words school and teacher.
3. Exclusion can be equally damaging to self-esteem. Young children find it extremely difficult to incorporate additional children into their games. We have learned through observation to monitor closely the dynamics of group interaction, in order to intercede at crucial moments. We intentionally limit unstructured playtime to minimize the opportunities for hurtful, exclusionary behavior. We play non-competitive games that encourage inclusion. We don’t even remove chairs during musical chairs. Finding a place to sit when the music stops is enough of a challenge.
4. Rejection is very similar in its damaging effects to exclusion. Children soon learn the power of words, and their ability to get their way by manipulating another child’s feelings: “I won’t be your friend.” Although the children may play together happily and harmoniously for the rest of the day, the stab of rejection can be felt very deeply; the victim will not forget the pain soon. No matter how rich and exciting the curriculum, children will recall the hurts. We have various strategies when we overhear children treating others unkindly. We intercede directly by saying immediately, “Those aren’t love words. Let’s find a nice way of solving this problem.” By using dolls or puppets, or by having the children role play, we encourage them to discover alternative solutions to conflicts that are not hurtful. If they haven’t internalized these lessons, we work directly with the children having the problem, guiding them to an appropriate resolution of their conflict.
5. Each classroom has a rules chart. Rules are few, but we let the children know how important they are. An example is, “Hands are for helping, not hurting.” Instead of saying “You’re not being nice,” we say, “You forgot the rule.” Sometimes a classmate leads a child who is “temporarily out of control” to the chart, and reminds him or her of the rule. Knowing that the children have very little impulse control, we try to be as sensitive to the aggressors as the victims, for the former have done something they couldn’t control, and the world has seemed to come crashing down on their heads. We explain to the children that we too forgot rules and got in trouble when we were little, and that we are here to help them learn to respect the rules of the school. We want them to realize that they are normal children, and that forgetting rules is part of being a child. Sometimes a child may get seriously out of control, attempting to hurt other children, trashing the classroom, etc. We will take that child gently aside, and sit with him/her. When the child has calmed down, we ask if he/she is ready to rejoin the others. The object is to maintain an atmosphere conducive to fun and learning for all, while maintaining the dignity and self-esteem of the unruly child until he or she regains control. We praise effusively positive behavior such as helpfulness or affection, and downplay behavior that might become a means for a child to get negative attention.
The adult world that they will enter one day will not always be kind or fair, but while your children are with us, we try to make their preschool experience an ideal world, safe, happy, and non- judgmental.